BUFFALO, N.Y. — With the Sabres getting three days in between preseason games, it’s time to look at where they are.
Let me start with what I’ve liked. Big winger Brett Murray is making a huge push to make this team. He brings something to the lineup that they just don’t have, and that's size and grit. Murray started playing well right away in the Prospects Challenge and hasn’t slowed down in camp.
The best example of what I’m talking about is the goal he scored Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Jack Quinn gave him a nice pass as he approached the slot. Murray got the puck, and two Penguins tried and failed to get the puck from him. Murray simply bulled his way to the net and scored.
Murray is listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 228 pounds. What also has been very noticeable is he’s improved his skating over the summer. In 27 games in Rochester last season, Murray scored nine goals and 11 assists for 20 points.
One thing that has improved team-wise is the willingness to go to the net. The reason Buffalo scored four goals in Pittsburgh was it consistently sent pucks and players to the net. If this team is to score goals, that 100% needs to continue.
Another rookie that has opened eyes is 19-year-old J-J Peterka. You might remember the Sabres moved up in the second round of the 2020 draft to take Peterka 34th overall. Buffalo had a first-round grade on him, and I can see why.
This kid has a couple of nice goals in the preseason, using his speed and willingness to compete. He is close to being ready for the NHL, and it will be interesting to see if the Sabres want to develop him up here or give him some games in Rochester. I like how he’s quick to get to pucks and has the willingness to battle.
He has an elite shot and gets it away in a flash. The reason I would start Peterka in the AHL is to learn the North American game. He’s prone to rookie decisions that get him in trouble. He has a tendency to want to carry the puck through two or three people, and it winds up going the other way.
Victor Olofsson benefitted from 66 games with the Amerks before coming up to play six games with the Sabres. I’m not sure Peterka would even need that much time in the minors.
Drake Caggiula has shown his speed will help him make the Sabres bottom six better. Caggiula is an excellent penalty killer, and I think can get back to where he scored double figure goals.
In goal, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been given the best opportunity to play getting 118 minutes before getting sent down to Rochester. The team never played well in front of him as his goals against was 5.08 with a .848 save percentage. I think the biggest thing he needs to work on is fighting for position so he can track pucks that he’s screened on.
Dustin Tokarski has been by far Buffalo’s best goalie with 82 minutes of work. His goals against is 1.46 with a .951 save percentage on 41 shots.
Craig Anderson has only played once going 40 minutes. His goals against is 3.00 with a.900 save percentage.
Aaron Dell has played twice seeing 64 minutes of work. His goals against is 5.63 with a .838 save percentage.
With one preseason game left, Tokarski has earned one of the two goalie slots on the team. It appears like the Sabres' brass agrees as Dell was placed on waivers Wednesday.
It’s only preseason, but an extreme concern has to be the defense. Rasmus Dahlin has not been sharp at all, and the confidence he built at the end of last season appears to be gone.
Newcomers Will Butcher and Mark Pysyk have both had a tough time in preseason. That might be part of the reason Jacob Bryson has been getting a look on both the left and right sides.
The problem with the defense is they have six guys that belong on the third pair and will get into trouble if they’re in the top four. The injury to Mattias Samuelsson has hurt. He hasn’t resumed skating yet after getting hurt blocking a shot in Game 1 of the Prospects Challenge. I think Samuelsson is capable of being a second pair D.
One thing that needs to be said is this is all looking at preseason games. The team that will play October 14 against Montreal has not played together yet. Butcher and Pysyk are veterans and once the bullets fly for real, they may be much better.
Dylan Cozens leads the Sabres in preseason scoring with no goals and four assists for four points. The rest of the scoring is below.
The final preseason game is Saturday afternoon against the Detroit Red Wings.
SABRES PRESEASON SCORING
- Cozens 0-4-4
- Ruotsalainen 2-1-3
- Weissbach 2-1-3
- Peterka 2-1-3
- Mittelstadt 1-2-3
- Hinostroza 1-2-3
- Asplund 1-2-3
- Skinner 0-2-2
- Butcher 0-2-2
- Thompson 1-1-2
- Murray 1-0-1
- Olofsson 1-0-1
- Bjork 1-0-1
- Mersch 1-0-1
- Hayden 0-1-1
- Fitzgerald 0-1-1
- Hagg 0-1-1
- Dahlin 0-1-1
- Quinn 0-1-1
- Eakin 0-1-1
- MacInnis 0-1-1